A Turkish newspaper claimed that Ankara has agreed to surrender territory to the Islamic State (IS) in exchange for 49 Turkish citizens who were taken hostage by the terror group in June.
Taraf daily news reported that Turkey has agreed to surrender the tomb of Süleyman Sah, who was the grandfather of the founder of the Ottoman Empire, Osman I. The tomb lies within Syria’s borders but is the property of Turkey due to a treaty signed with France in 1921. The tomb is said to be constantly guarded by two dozen Turkish special forces soldiers.
Islamic State jihadis kidnapped 49 Turkish nationals from Turkey’s Consulate General in Mosul, Iraq, on June 11, and Consul General Öztürk Yilmaz was among those taken hostage.
Turkey has censored the media within its country from reporting on the incident, and no public statements from the hostages has surfaced.
Taraf said that Turkey offered a substantial compensation package to the terrorists, but the money offer was rejected by the jihadis. Instead, they wanted the land within Syria. The newspaper also said that Ankara has already ordered Turkish soldiers guarding the tomb to stand down and vacate the premises.
Thursday, the Turkish Foreign Ministry denied the allegations of the territory-for-hostages deal, saying the claims purported by Taraf are “baseless and an example of great irresponsibility.”
The Foreign Ministry statement continued, lambasting the news outlet:
With such a sensitive subject, journalists should act in line with media ethics and avoid baseless, speculative and irresponsible reporting that manipulates the public. We urge all media organizations to be sensitive to such issues and we ask the Turkish people to ignore such reports.
The Ministry added that the report was “not acceptable” and overstepped the country’s bounds of the freedom of the press.
An opposition leader in the Republican People’s Party demanded to know whether the newspaper’s claims were true. If true, he added, “in this case, are you going to resign?”
A Turkish man known in the social media sphere as “Fuat Avni,” a whistleblower whom many believe works within the upper echelons of Ankara’s government, said on his Twitter account that reports of the land-for-prisoners swap are indeed true. He took the reports a step further, alleging that Turkey had agreed not only to cede the land, but had also signed off on demolishing the tomb, which is of massive historical significance to the country.